I am an uncomfortable Life Coach. Let me clarify, put me in a coaching room with a client and I am in my element and at flow, and I feel blessed to be in the career I am in and have the opportunity to support people to live a better life. I am also proud to be a Life Coach, and feel passionate about the positive impact coaching can have in the lives of those who work with coaches. So, why am I uncomfortable? The industry in which I work, often termed the ‘personal development’ industry is marred by smoke and mirrors.
The coaching industry is not regulated, although bodies do exist which coaches can elect to study with or gain accreditation through. These organisations have also designated themselves as the regulators, setting the standards for coaching, the criteria to be a coach, and often the way which coaching needs to be delivered – this can often lead to conflict within a coach who may want to draw on multiple theories or practices, or take an approach which may not be recognised or endorsed by the body with whom they have registered. Finally, these bodies are more focused on executive coaching than life coaching. Life coaching, therefore, escapes a professional standard for delivery, no clear qualification is recognised as required to practice, and anyone can call themselves a Life Coach, with no entry level. In an industry where many great life coaches are focused on increasing the reputation of this intervention, new life coaches are arriving in the industry daily with no formal training or experience, threatening the reputation of the industry as a whole.
In addition, life coaching as an intervention itself can seem ‘fluffy’. Coaching is often simplified to helping a person define what they want to achieve, where they are in relation to this, and how they can get between these two points. This oversimplification can lead to people wondering why it is they would invest time and money into something that surely must be just as easy to do themselves. To counter this many life coaches will, therefore ‘market’ their services through claims of what they can achieve for a person. In some cases, these claims may accurately reflect the results they can achieve but the claims themselves can often leave people feeling like the coach is trying to sell them something that can’t possibly exist.
In the extreme, the events industry represents the literal stage from which many will sell their services, or believe they can create the change for audience members without the necessity of working with a coach one-to-one. While I have nothing against this approach and if it works for an individual then I am happy to advocate for it. Personally, I think the lights, cameras, music, chanting, fire walking, are all smoke and mirrors for creating change in an instant which is often experienced at the moment but not maintained in the long term. Creating a high for the duration of the event, sending people home with actions to complete, and the result is very little achieved and no fundamental change in the person’s life. Where the change is not achieved, the person is often led to believe this is because they in some way missed a key piece of learning, failed to invest at the level at which they should, or need one-to-one coaching to create the impact. I would argue starting with the one-to-one coaching would have been the best initial investment. The irony here, those who advocate for events and experienced the biggest change are often those where the ultimate result has been going into working in the personal development industry themselves.
We’re also led to believe life coaching is the exclusive tool of successful people and those who are already successful are seeking more, wanting to take their life and career to the next level. As a Life Coach who specialises in mental health, I often see how general perceptions on life coaching can lead people to discount this approach to dealing with their challenges. Believing instead that only successful people hire coaches. I am passionate about life coaching as a solution to dealing with mental health challenges, Where the focus of the coaching is less about wanting more but about focusing on understanding yourself, what you really want from life, and how to achieve this. Where a better house is exchanged for finding and living with purpose, a new car is struck off the list in favour of genuine fulfilment, and your next holiday isn’t focused on finding the best restaurants but about finding yourself.
Where a person does seek to hire a coach they can often feel uncomfortable with the ‘contracting’ process, where they and a coach put into writing how they will work together, agreeing to deliverables, timeframe, and investment. Many coaches also keep a ‘get out of jail’ card in their pocket, or more readily found in their terms and conditions. Laying a responsibility with the client to create the change. If change doesn’t happen, no refunds are offered. I believe this approach is taken on the belief a person making a financial commitment to change, where they know this money will not be returned, is more likely to commit to the programme and achieve the results. I would question this change being made for the right reasons and maintained over the long-term.
Overall this makes me an uncomfortable Life Coach but I have found a solution. Authenticity. Be who I am, with no filter, no smoke, no mirrors. Not trying to be anything I am not, not trying to evidence a level of success I have not yet achieved. Openly share the results I have achieved and those of my clients, as well as sharing the challenges of our respective journeys. Be realistic about what people could achieve working with me, and have a mutual agreement on our commitment to one another. Finally, I’m going to do it, I’m playing the British card! In an industry often influenced by a US approach, I think the Brits are ready for a real and authentic approach to personal development. Am I right?